Hydroponic and aeroponic production of medicinal crops in controlled environments provides opportunities for improving quality, purity, consistency, bioactivity, and biomass production on a commercial scale. Ideally, the goal is to optimize the environment and systems to maximize all five characteristics. Examples of crop production systems using perlite hydroponics, nutrient film technique (NFT), ebb and flow, and aeroponics were studied for various root, rhizome, and herb leaf crops. Biomass data comparing aeroponic vs. soilless culture or field grown production of burdock root (Arctium lappa), stinging nettles herb and rhizome (Urtica dioica), and yerba mansa root and rhizome (Anemopsis californica) are presented, as well as smaller scale projects observing ginger rhizome (Zingiber officinale) and skullcap herb (Scutellaria lateriflora). Phytochemical concentration of marker compounds for burdock and yerba mansa in different growing systems are presented.
Lettuce, Lactuca sativa L., plants were grown in soil irrigated at various intervals with nutrient solution and in hydroponics culture. Increased nutrient level added to the soil increased seed yield but did not give a corresponding increase in seedling performance.
Hydroponically propagated seed, although heavier than soil propagated seed, were relatively poor in vigor and germinability. A positive linear correlation was found between N levels (5-15 meq) and seed yield, weight per seed, and seedling vigor. Amounts of amino acids and lipids were not positively correlated with nutrient supply, N level, or seedling vigor. Lettuce seed weight was a useful parameter in predicting seedling vigor only within a seed lot obtained from plants grown under the same environmental and nutritional conditions.
Due to its short time to flower (14-18 days) and rapid maturation cycle (50-55 days), dwarf rapid-cycling brassica (Brassica napus) is under consideration as a candidate oilseed crop for NASA's Controlled Ecological Life Support Systems program. Recent work has focused on defining a set of optimum environmental conditions which permit increased crop yield in terms of g·m-2d-1 of edible biomass. A wide range of environmental variables have been considered including lamp type, CO2 level, nutrient solution pH, and planting density. In addition, nitrogen nutrition regimes have been manipulated with respect to nitrogen concentration (2 to 30 mM), source (NH4 + and/or NO3 -), and time of stepwise changes in nitrogen level (day 14 to 28). The highest seed oil content (42% DW basis) has been found under limiting nitrogen levels (2 mM). However, the low nitrogen inhibits overall seed production potential. Different cultural techniques also have been compared, including solid-substrate, passive wicking hydroponics versus liquid culture systems. Trials are underway to assess crop growth and development under the “best set” scenario of environmental conditions. At present, the highest seed yield (10.6 g·m-2d-1) has been obtained using solid-substrate hydroponic systems under a combination of metal halide and high-pressure sodium lamps. Constant CO2 enrichment to 1000 μmol·mol-1 did not increase crop yield rate.
Research supported in part by NASA grant NAGW - 2329.
Maize (Zea mays) is increasingly grown in controlled environments to facilitate phenotypic analysis. Even with ample chelated iron (Fe), maize often develops interveinal chlorosis in soilless substrates or hydroponics because of inadequate bioavailable Fe in the plant. We hypothesized that the excessive phosphorus (P) in standard greenhouse fertigation solutions would accentuate the chlorosis. Here, we report that reducing the P concentration from 0.7 to 0.07 mmol·L−1 (22 to 2 mg·L−1) provided adequate P for rapid growth and increased chlorophyll concentration from 263 to 380 µmol·m−2. Restricted root-zones in containers require frequent watering and are often watered to excess, which flushes the root-zone with a high P solution. In a separate study, minimizing the leaching fraction increased leaf chlorophyll concentration from 123 to 508 µmol·m−2. The use of a ceramic substrate typically improves the green leaf color of maize plants. Consistent with this observation, we found no effect of high P concentration in the irrigation solution on growth or chlorophyll density in ceramic substrates because it strongly absorbs P from solution. These findings can significantly improve maize growth and nutrition in controlled environments.
There is an increasing need to recirculate and reuse nutrient solutions to reduce environmental and economic costs. However, one of the weakest points in hydroponics is the lack of information on managing the nutrient solution. Many growers and research scientists dump out nutrient solutions and refill at weekly intervals. Some authors have recommended measuring the concentrations of individual nutrients in solution as a key to nutrient control and maintenance. Dumping and replacing solution is unnecessary. Monitoring ions in solution is unnecessary; in fact the rapid depletion of some nutrients often causes people to add toxic amounts of nutrients to the solution. Monitoring ions in solution is interesting, but it is not the key to effective maintenance. During the past 18 years, we have managed nutrients in closed hydroponic systems according to the principle of “mass balance,” which means that the mass of nutrients is either in solution or in the plants. We add nutrients to the solution depending on what we want the plant to take up. Plants quickly remove their daily ration of some nutrients while other nutrients accumulate in the solution. This means that the concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium can be at low levels in the solution (<0.1 mM) because these nutrients are in the plant where we want them. Maintaining a high concentrations of some nutrients in the solution (especially P, K, and Mn) can result in excessive uptake that can lead to nutrient imbalances.
Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) cv. Etna, a dry bean variety, and cv. Hystyle, a snap bean variety, were grown at 400 and 1200 μmol·m-2·s-1 CO2 to determine the effects of CO2 enrichment on plant growth and stomatal conductance. Plants were grown in controlled environment chambers for 70 days at each CO2 level using nutrient film technique hydroponics. An 18-h light/6-h dark photoperiod was maintained for each test, with a corresponding thermoperiod of 28 °C/24 °C and constant 65% RH. Diurnal stomatal conductance measurements were made with a steady-state porometer at 28 days after planting (DAP) and 49 DAP. As expected, plant growth and yield was consistently increased for each cultivar when plants were grown at 1200 μmol·m-2·s-1 CO2 compared to 400 μmol·m-2·s-1 CO2. Stomatal conductance measured during the light period showed an expected decrease for each cultivar when grown at 1200 μmol·m-2·s-1 CO2 compared to 400 μmol·m-2·s-1 CO2. However, during the dark period, stomatal conductance was higher for each cultivar grown at 1200 μmol·m-2·s-1 CO2. These results suggest a stomatal opening effect in the dark when plants are exposed to enriched levels of CO2. Tests are underway to investigate the effects of CO2 levels greater than 1200 μmol·m-2·s-1 on the growth and stomatal conductance of bean.
Limited-cluster production systems may be a useful strategy to increase crop production and profitability for the greenhouse tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill). In this study, using an ebb-and-flood hydroponics system, we modified plant architecture and spacing and determined the effects on fruit yield and harvest index at two light levels. Single-cluster plants pruned to allow two leaves above the cluster had 25% higher fruit yields than did plants pruned directly above the cluster; this was due to an increase in fruit weight, not fruit number. Both fruit yield and harvest index were greater for all single-cluster plants at the higher light level because of increases in both fruit weight and fruit number. Fruit yield for two-cluster plants was 30% to 40% higher than for singlecluster plants, and there was little difference in the dates or length of the harvest period. Fruit yield for three-cluster plants was not significantly different from that of two-cluster plants; moreover, the harvest period was delayed by 5 days. Plant density (5.5, 7.4, 9.2 plants/m2) affected fruit yield/plant, but not fruit yield/unit area. Given the higher costs for materials and labor associated with higher plant densities, a two-cluster crop at 5.5 plants/m2 with two leaves above the cluster was the best of the production system strategies tested.
Seeds of Dynamo white geraniums were started in a soilless media in the germination chamber. After germination, one-third of the plants were placed under an intermittent mist system, and two-thirds were placed in rockwool cubes (7.62 cm × 7.62 cm × 6.35 cm) and placed into the hydroponics system. Plants that were placed under the mist system were transplanted into 16 cm × 16 cm (width × depth) plastic pots containing a soilless media of 1 peat moss: 1 perlite (v/v). After 45 days, half of the hydroponically grown plants were transplanted into 16 cm × 16 cm plastic pots containing peat moss and perlite. Observations included final plant height, top fresh weight, and top dry weight. The hydroponically-grown geraniums were significantly taller than the pot-grown geraniums and the hydroponic/pot-grown geraniums, 58.17 cm, 36.42 cm, and the 41.75 cm, respectively. The hydroponically grown plants were also significantly higher in top fresh weight and top dry weight.
Organosulfur compounds in onion extracts inhibit the aggregation of human blood platelets. Antiplatelet activity is important to human cardiovascular health. We hypothesized that modification of sulfur fertility may increase organosulfur compound concentration and thereby affect platelet inhibitory activity in onion. Four contrasting onion genotypes were grown at four sulfur levels in a hydroponic system in the greenhouse and in contrasting sulfur environments in seven field locations in Wisconsin, Oregon, and New York. The contrasting field sites were comprised of sandy soils with a mean sulfate level of 5.4 ppm and muck soils with a mean sulfate level of 20.3 ppm. Onions grown in field environments with increased soil sulfur concentrations had significantly higher antiplatelet activity (33% higher than sand-grown onions; P < 0.001). The greenhouse experiment was conducted in hydroponics with nutrient solutions containing four sulfur levels ranging from 0.8 mM to 15 mM sulfate. The 10-mM sulfur treatment resulted in onion bulbs with 10% higher antiplatelet activity over those grown in the 0.8-mM sulfur treatment (P < 0.06). These data suggest that sulfur concentration in nutrient solution and in soil may be directly responsible for the increased antiplatelet activity in onion extracts observed in this study.
The effects of planting density and short-term changes in photoperiod on the growth and photosynthesis of bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) was investigated. Two cultivars of bean (cv. Etna, a dry bean variety; cv. Hystyle, a snap bean variety) were grown using nutrient film technique hydroponics in a walk-in growth chamber with a 12 h/12 h (light/dark) photoperiod and a corresponding thermoperiod of 28/24 °C (light/dark) and constant 65% relative humidity. Lighting for the chamber consisted of VHO fluorescent lamps and irradiance at canopy level was 400 μmol·m-2·s-1 PPF. For each cultivar, plants were grown at densities of 16 or 32 plants/m2. Short-term photoperiod changes were imposed during vegetative growth (21-29 DAP) and pod-fill (42-57 DAP). From the base 12 h/12h (light/dark) photoperiod, lighting in the chamber was cycled to provide 18 h/06 h (light/dark) or 24 h/0 h(continuous light) for 48 h. Diurnal single leaf net photosynthetic rates (Pn) and net assimilation vs. internal CO2 (Aci) measurements were taken during the short-term photoperiod adjustments. Results showed that there was no difference between cultivars or planting density with regard to total biomass or single leaf photosynthetic rates, but cv. Etna produced 35% more edible biomass than cv. Hystyle. Additionally, there was no effect of short-term photoperiod adjustment on single leaf Pn or Aci.